Secretary of State Kim Wyman has plans to strengthen the power of the presidential primary election next year, and while we applaud her effort to make the process more meaningful, we have concerns.
The presidential primary typically has been a way to make more people feel like they have been engaged in the process, but until now there was no way to ensure their vote meant anything. Party members determine their delegates at their party caucuses, regardless of the results of the primary election.
So voters can cast a ballot, but it does not have to carry any weight with party leadership.
Wyman wants that changed.
She is proposing that the parties be bound by the outcome of the primary presidential election and use those results to allocate at least one of the 10 allowed delegates to the national Democratic and Republican national conventions. If party leaders agree, voters will have to publicly declare a party affiliation when they vote by selecting either a Republican or Democrat primary ballot.
Washington voters historically are an independent lot and that requirement likely won’t go over well.
If the parties don’t agree to be bound by the results of the primary, then Wyman is recommending an open ballot. Voters who don’t want to declare a party affiliation likely would prefer this route, but it renders their vote essentially meaningless.
Wyman estimates the cost of the presidential primary to be around $11.5 million. That is a lot to spend on an election that will either carry no weight with party leadership, or force people to declare a party affiliation when they don’t want to.
So far, Wyman’s plan has been approved in the Senate and awaits a hearing in the House. Another component of her proposal would move the presidential primary election to March 8, 2016, which is more than two months sooner than it is scheduled now. Other states are holding their presidential primary elections in either February or March and if Washington is in that same time frame, Wyman said it is more likely candidates will come to our state to campaign and not just fundraise.
That would cause some excitement. It has been a while since Washington voters participated in a presidential primary election, since former Secretary of State Sam Reed suspended it in 2012, saving $10 million.
But generating excitement is not reason enough to spend $11 million.
We understand Wyman wants people to feel like they have a chance to participate in the process, and the thought of the general public having some clout, and not just political insiders, is appealing. But $11 million is too much to spend on delegate choices that are mostly determined at party caucuses.
We suggest a third option: Let the caucuses have their way and skip the primary all together. At least we would save $11 million.